On 3 April 2014, I spoke with Lisette Massink, who works for FORUM in the Netherlands to tell me more about the project and their work in the field of inclusive education.
SIRIUS: Why was FORUM set up?
FORUM was set up after the fusion of a number of national level migrant organisations that had been founded to protect the interests of specific migrant groups, namely of the Turkish, the Moroccan, Surinam, Antillean, and Moluk communities respectively. While FORUM initially continued to focus on protecting the interests and improving the position of migrant groups in the Netherlands, the focus has since shifted to playing the role of a “knowledge institute” that aims to gather and develop knowledge on all issues pertaining to the integration and position of migrants in the Netherlands, and translate this knowledge to practical / workable solutions.
How does FORUM support inclusive education?
FORUM conducts research on different themes regarding education opportunities and policies and gives policy advice at the national and municipal levels through written reports, meetings with policy makers and public meetings. In addition, FORUM implements projects for migrant parents and children at schools.
How was PAOO run?
In 2006, FORUM set up PAOO (Platform Allochtone Ouders en Onderwijs, Platform of Migrant Parents in Education), a seven year project for and by migrant parents to strengthen their representation in schools and to change attitudes among education practitioners towards migrant pupils. In its first phase, the focus was to localise migrant parents in bigger cities in the Netherlands and establish platforms to raise the awareness of other migrant parents, get in touch with municipalities and schools and present the perspective of migrant parents. After four years, an evaluation showed that it was very difficult to maintain such a structure without professional support at the local level. It became apparent that it is a very big effort to get migrant parents together, approach schools, maintain this dialogue and actually bring about change. Raising awareness among parents was not that difficult, parents know very well what they want for their children. But the initial set-up expected too much time and commitment from parents who are really busy with their work, family and children. Such a structure would have needed professional backup or additional support through a paid position. At the same time, the Ministry of Education, that funded the project, preferred for the second phase an approach that was more focussed on the role of schools.
As a result, in the next three years of the second phase FORUM was more involved and worked less on a city level, but more directly with schools all across the country, mostly primary schools and a few secondary schools with large groups of migrant students. We advised schools on how to improve cooperation with migrant parents through concrete actions in schools. It is very important to create a connection between the learning environment of the child in school and at home. Then, schools can also have a better insight into how parents themselves think about school and childhood development. We also developed a course for parents where they could discuss how to work together with schools, support their child’s development and how to successfully raise a child bilingually. We want to show how important parents’ impact can be, especially in the Netherlands, where parents are expected to be proactive and approach teachers when there is a problem. After completion of the second phase, FORUM has continued stimulating and advising schools and further developing and making available instruments for strengthening the participation of migrant parents in education.
How do you reach out to migrant parents?
The first step is to reach out to migrant communities through members that have a broad network, and are already well integrated and from their own experience aware of the challenges migrant parent face supporting their children’s education. We also connect directly with less integrated and conscious migrant groups in the cities, going to places where migrant parents meet. There is a lot of potential, especially among immigrants who have been in the country for a while, to volunteer and offer their support to others. But then again, this is also a question of time. In some of the cities, even when the funding stopped, they still continued with those platforms, which is very impressive.
What main challenges do you face in your work on parents and teachers?
One problem we face is to get schools and teachers to see migrant children as equally capable. While in some schools that is the case, in others, teachers are prejudiced and anticipate that migrant children will not perform well. Even if they do, some teachers think that they shouldn’t recommend them for higher secondary education because they assume that there is not enough support at home. In many cases, this discrimination is also subconscious, but if there is no contact with the parents, the teacher will invest even less in the child. The relationship between parents and the teacher is very important for the teacher’s perception of the child. Many teachers do not see migrant parents as valuable partners and this attitude is a major obstacle when working towards including migrant parents. We saw that school leadership is really important in that regard. In the second phase, we worked with the school team and leadership to analyse their attitudes towards migrant children and then worked towards changing them. It is the responsibility of the school to involve parents; therefore schools must train their teachers and make an effort to reach out to parents. As a consequence, parents are more likely to become active in that school. As long as schools don’t see that necessity and it’s only the parents who are very motivated, then inclusion of migrant parents will not work.